Celebrating International Women's Day at Madison Avenue
Rachel Apfel Glass, Melissa Bernstein, Chloe Epstein, Ramy Sharp, Rosanna Scotto.
To celebrate International Women's Month (and Ramy’s birthday!), Ramy hosted an in-store panel featuring a few fabulous boss babes to discuss the trials and tribulations they faced starting their own businesses. Moderated by Fox's Good Day New York host, Rosanna Scotto, the panel featured Melissa Bernstein (Founder and CEO of Melissa & Dog Toys and LifeLines), Chloe Epstein (Founder and President of Chloe’s Pops), and Rachel Apfel Glass (Founder and CEO of GLOSSLAB). The key takeaway? Success is achieved by asking for help and cultivating strong female relationships.
On March 9th, 980 Madison Avenue was transformed to host 50 fabulous women to join in on the conversation surrounding female entrepreneurship. Guests enjoyed refreshments (wine, of course!), and complimentary Chloe's Pops. At the end of the night, attendees went home with a GLOSSLAB nail kit, a Chloe's Pop's voucher, a Ramy Brook gift card, and LifeLines Inspiration cards.
After the event, Ramy and her friends went to Fresco by Scotto to continue the birthday celebrations! See below for some highlights from the wonderful evening with these inspiring women and show their looks below.
“After the pandemic, we felt it was time to bring back an event to bring women together and highlight female empowerment - especially to celebrate International Women’s Day!” - Ramy
What role did the women in your life play in starting your career and building a business? Were there certain women who stand out in your story? If so, how did they inspire you?
Ramy: There are many women who inspire me but I was definitely inspired by my mother. She was a teacher and actually made a lot of our clothes when my sisters and I were younger. Shopping was a sport for us - we lived at the mall! When I first started my business, I literally shlepped every sample in my car and drove to people’s homes across the tri-state area. My younger sister hosted one of my first trunk shows for me and has been a huge support every since. It was an amazing group of women who supported my line and continue to support me and I’m so grateful.
Chloe: Like Ramy, my mother was a huge inspiration to me when starting my business. She was extremely hardworking and independent and instilled so much confidence in me by applauding me for everything I do. She dealt with a lot of male chauvinism in her career and I watched her have to navigate that. She worked tirelessly and had the business that she worked for given to brother for no other reason other than that he was a man. So I think that really shaped her, and helped inspire my work ethic - her message to me was always ‘do it yourself’ and don’t rely on anyone else and it definitely had an impact on me more than I really realize.
Melissa: My story’s going to be a little bit different - I always had a very complicated relationship with women. I didn’t have the best relationship with my mother - and I’ve always been terrified of large groups of women - this panel is probably the scariest thing for me! I find it so ironic because when I had kids I thought I would only have boys and I ended up having 4 daughters and 2 boys.
My relationship with women changed drastically over about a year ago when I became really authentic and honest about who I was. Ironically, when I tried to put up the facade and fit in I never did, and now being my most authentic self I finally developed strong female relationships. Now, I feel much more supported by women and feel like I can pay it forward and be a role model to my daughters and mentor other women in my life.
Rachel: My background is in finance, where I was one of very few women in the industry. I think that partially inspired this business of doing something FOR women. The way shoe-shining was for men I wanted to create something for working women. As far as female inspiration goes, my mother and my grandmother always taught me to show up as who you are. Always. That's a lesson I always took with me, even working in finance. I was not being my authentic self and I pivoted and decided to create something on my own.
Tell us about the most unexpected, yet impactful female connection you’ve ever made. How did this encounter or relationship shape the woman you are today?
Ramy: When I started Ramy Brook, I was actually surprised by how many women wanted to help me. My good friend Jennifer Miller was SO helpful in teaching me what to do and how to get started, especially with the legal aspects of starting a company. Another woman that comes to mind is Stephanie Greenfield, who owned SCOOP at the time. I always admired her store and she seemed to really nail down that boutique business. Stephanie took the time and sat with me in her apartment to teach me retail math. She taught me how to create a line sheet. She gave me a quick crash course on how to start my own line and also how to be respected in this business. Even people may think fashion is a female industry because it's women’s clothing, a lot of people behind the scenes are men. I’m really grateful to her.
Chloe: Someone that comes to mind for me was my best friend’s oldest sister growing up. I was always in awe of her and how she treated us and she was just older and cooler! She ended up getting me my first internship in the entertainment industry. Watching her strut around the biggest movie studio at the time with such authority and confidence was such an inspiration to me and I’ll never forget it.
Melissa: Doug and I would exhibit at the Javits Center, and when we couldn’t afford to reserve a booth on the main floor we would show in a small booth upstairs. Being a creative introvert I was very shy. One of our buyers from the city (she was the buyer if Penny Whistle Toys), she came to our booth and looked at me in the booth for about five minutes and said “Melissa - get out of there!” She got behind the booth and she started unwrapping everything, picking up the product and going through the aisles. Within 20 minutes she had everyone at javits at our booth. I was like that is how you sell. We ended up hiring her as our first sales person! That really transformed me as a shy, redicisent creative as someone who was almost embarrassed to sell her own products to learn how to sell.
Rachel: Coming out of finance which was mostly male dominated, and then coming into the beauty space I expected this industry to be primarily female - which it surprisingly wasn’t! When I opened GLOSSLAB I found that all of our customers were a source of unexpected inspiration for me and provided a lot of feedback.
The concept of “office hours” has changed significantly since the pandemic. How do you optimize your and your employees time under this 'new normal'?
Ramy: Before covid, when you went to work, you assumed you go 5 days a week and that’s the way it is. That’s how it always was! Covid really changed that, I think in both a good way and a challenging way. I like everyone in our office - it’s always helpful at a small company for sales to see what the design team is doing, for finance to see what marketing is up to, and to just keep that office rapport. There’s that water cooler chat which you just do not get when you work from home. On the flip side, what we’ve noticed is that a lot of our employees enjoy the flexibility of remote work, and they’re still getting their work done. The people who commute saved hours when they didn’t have to make the commute. Truthfully, I really like everyone who works at Ram Brook, so I want to hang out with everyone!
Chloe: We got rid of our office space right before covid. While I miss all of the benefits of being together in person, it’s actually been pretty helpful in terms of sales since we are a national company. We’ve been able to hire people around the country, and it’s cut down a lot of travel time. I personally have benefitted from not commuting - I find that I’m less frazzled at the end of the day and can be a little calmer and spend more time with my kids. Back in the day, there were things I was instincilty saying no to because I didn’t have the time and now I can.
Melissa - When we started Melissa and Doug, it was ALWAYS in the office, we were very rigid about that. On the other hand, we started LifeLines in 2020 and that business is entirely remote. We went from feeling so in control of our employees' time to trusting our folks with their time management. We learned that people are a lot happier and more fulfilled when they can control their own time. Now it’s become so much more fluid.
Rachel - I have heard the expression that founders gave up the 40 hour work week in order to work the 100 hour work week. I feel like that obviously applies but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Our manicures are of course in person - so that has not changed. Our corporate team is hybrid - I think people are happier with flexibility. I found for myself that I am the most productive in the morning, so I created a schedule based on that.
What tips do you have for other working women, especially mothers, who are dealing with multi-tasking many responsibilities?
Ramy - My kids were in school when I started my business so I had all morning to work. I worked from my apartment for 3 years. My husband was super supportive and my kids were a bit older so I just took advantage of those hours in the day where I could really be productive. I don’t even know if I’m still good at that. I want to be present for everything. I don’t want to miss a game or a play but I may have to travel for work which makes me miss things. But if I can't be everywhere at once, which I can’t, at least I feel the kids know that I want to and respect what I’m doing. So it gives them some comfort that if I’m not there it’s because I’m trying to build something.
Chloe - I think I had it down until I got the dog! I think you have to listen to yourself and recognize when you feel overwhelmed. It’s OK to say no to things. I think I've gotten better at that over time and it’s allowed me to be more sane. You’re always going to feel like you’re not doing enough and that there’s more to do - but I think that’s what makes you successful.
Melissa - I think it's about giving yourself the permission that you might mess up. Some days may not be great. I don’t like the word “balance” - to me it’s akin to perfection. Some days it might be 90% work and 10% kids. Other days it’s 100% kids. It all depends on the day. I learned if I’m going to be OK I am going to have to ebb and flow with the way life is going.
Rachel - I don’t think you ever nail down multitasking and balancing. For me, I try to find time for myself to wind down despite the crazy. I wake up super early, I love being awake before anyone else in the house. Just having that alone time really sets my day so I’m not as reactionary.
You talked about your mentors - have you ever mentored anyone and what have you advised women in business?
Ramy - I hope I serve as an example to the young women in our office that they can do it all - be a good mom and do what you love, while having a good and happy work environment. Leadership starts at the top. I think it’s important to show the way we care about people.
Melissa - I mentor a lot of young women and their biggest fear in life is that they don’t think they can do “both” - and they’re terrified! It’s never going to be easy and you’re never going to feel like you’re doing it right and you’ll always feel guilty. And that’s ok because we’re being an incredible role model to our daughters. But as long as you're honest, you’re showing them that they can achieve anything and that is what we need to show all women. - I hope I serve as an example to the young women in our office that they can do it all - be a good mom and do what you love, while having a good and happy work environment. Leadership starts at the top. I think it’s important to show the way we care about people.
Melissa - I mentor a lot of young women and their biggest fear in life is that they don’t think they can do “both” - and they’re terrified! It’s never going to be easy and you’re never going to feel like you’re doing it right and you’ll always feel guilty. And that’s ok because we’re being an incredible role model to our daughters. But as long as you're honest, you’re showing them that they can achieve anything and that is what we need to show all women.